Introducing your cat to your newborn
A dog belongs to a person, but a cat belongs to a place. Cats are very territorial and any invasion is usually unwelcome. So when you suddenly bring home a newborn baby the different smells, noises and routines can really unsettle your cat. Aaron Waters, country manager for PETstock, shares his advice for introducing your cat to your newborn, and some tips for keeping toddlers safe around cats (and cats safe around toddlers!).
Help your pet get used to the idea that a baby is on the way and the make up of the family is going to change. For example, slowly introduce new baby furniture, blankets, noisy toys etc over a period of time rather than all at once. Preparing a nursery well in advance helps with this.
Sudden changes can be stressful for your cat, and can produce undesirable behaviour, such as scratching furniture. You want your pet to associate good things with the new addition to your family, so after baby arrives, make sure you set aside time every day to groom and play with your cat. Remember that before your baby arrived your cat was most likely the centre of attention, and now may be pushed down the priority list!
Watch for any behavioural changes in your cat. Is it marking its territory in the house or scratching the furniture (a way of cats marking their territory)? If it is, talk to your vet. There are some great products that can help de-stress your pets: Feliway and DAP are cat pheromone sprays that help to create a sense of familiarity and security within the cat's enviroment. A professional pet trainer is a great place to start if you are having problems. It’s always good to get their advice and tips before introducing a new member to the family.
Keep your cat’s routines as normal as possible. Feed them at the same times as they have always been fed. Adding another pet to keep your first pet company is not always the best option as this can create even more stress for the existing pet, and potentially more work for the new parent.
What should parents do if their cat scratches their child, or the parent?
First, determine the cause of the scratching. Is it aggressive or is it playful scratching? If it is playful it may be due to overexciting or overstimulating your cat. Assess the way humans and kids are interacting with the cat. Is the nature of play time encouraging the cat to play “rough” or in a manner that may be interpreted as an attack to owners? Give your cat interactive games that can redirect the aggression onto toys. Promote gentle play with humans, and avoid using hands as toys.
Is there a lead up to the scratching or is it just a sudden attack? Quite often cats may become aggressive due to environmental changes for example a new baby, new pet, new animal in the neighbourhood, less attention being given or simply a new smell around the house. If the scratching has suddenly started to occur try to rule out any stress factors within the home. If the behaviour continues to worsen seek veterinary advice.
Cat scratches can be serious
Cat scratches will always be painful and have the potential to become infected. In most cases basic first aid, such as cleaning the scratch with a safe disinfectant and applying a bandaid, will be enough. However, catscratch disease is a possible outcome of any cat scratch or bite. Remember, if any cat scratch appears to form a blister before it’s healed, you should see your doctor. (This information is adapted from DermNet NZ)
People at risk of getting catscratch fever include those:
- owning a cat younger than 12 months
- licked, bitten or scratched by an infected kitten
- petting an infected cat
- owning at least one kitten or cat with fleas.
What safety advice do you have for toddlers around cats? What can you do to encourage them to get along better?
- Always supervise activity between the pets and the children.
- Ensure your cat has its own space to go to. A bed and a tall scratching post for a cat are great ideas, just make sure your child knows these are places just for the cat. It would help to put the bed and/or scratch post in a place the child is not able to get to, such as behind a kiddie gate.
- Be careful around feeding time, and make sure the child does not interfere with your cat’s food.
Read our story on Percy the cat, and his reaction to the Sutherland family's newborn baby.